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Psychol Sci. 2002 Jul;13(4):342-9.

Practicing perfection: piano performance as expert memory.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs 06269-1020, USA.


A concert pianist recorded her practice as she learned the third movement, Presto, of J.S. Bach's Italian Concerto. She also described the formal structure of the piece and reported her decisions about basic features (e.g., fingering), interpretive features (e.g., phrasing), and cues to attend to during performance (performance cues). These descriptions were used to identify which locations, features, and cues she practiced most, which caused hesitations when she first played from memory, and which affected her recall 2 years later. Effects of the formal structure and performance cues on all three activities indicated that the pianist used the formal structure as a retrieval scheme and performance cues as retrieval cues. Like expert memorists in other domains, she engaged in extended retrieval practice, going to great lengths to ensure that retrieval was as rapid and automatic from conceptual (declarative) memory as from motor and auditory memory.

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